Many companies, departments, and teams don’t know where they’re going. They know what they’re doing and what they’ve always done, but they don’t have a destination. This is very uninspiring to leaders who must provide guidance and to employees who want direction and a sense of purpose. It’s like building a house without a drawing of the finished structure. Not only would you not be able to make decisions about priorities and tradeoffs, but you and everyone else involved would lose interest in the project very quickly. We all need clarity about what we want our organizations to be in the future.
Ari Weinzweig explains the usefulness of having a vision in the February 2011 issue of Inc magazine. He describes how he uses a visioning process as co-founder of Zingerman’s Community of Businesses in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which has eight different businesses, 17 managing partners, and revenue of $37 million. He and the managing partners use visioning for each of the separate businesses under the Zingerman’s umbrella and they use the process when planning any new service or initiative.
At the core of the Zingerman’s visioning process are the questions that they ask themselves. Weinzweig writes:
A vision, quite simply, is a picture of what success will be at a particular time in the future. It encompasses answers to an array of questions: What does our organization look like? How big is it? What are we famous for? Why does anyone care about what we do? How do people who work here feel about their jobs? How do I, as the founder, feel about the business? What's my role in it? Complete the visioning process, and you'll have a clearly articulated end for your organization—something that won't change every time the market or your mood shifts.
In Zingerman’s, visioning is not a nice-to-do or something that is done if there is time. Rather, it is part of the culture of the organization. It is the way they work. A new business, a new project, a new department, or any kind of change goes through their visioning process. In tough economic times the tendency is for organizations to put things like visioning on the back burner. However, it’s in these tough, uncertain times that organizations need a vision more than ever. They need to be focused and they need to set priorities and they can’t do these without knowing the end goal.